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Lockdown – for me and for so many others –has felt like a different life entirely.
Prior to lockdown, I’d spend my days in a bright, bustling office, usually having a few good laughs and a bit of banter with my colleagues.
My down time was spent at the pub, the gym or visiting family. I’d also just started to take art classes and had high – if rather too optimistic – hopes of becoming something of an amateur painter.
My life was pleasant enough, even if I did long to be swept up in some grand adventure beyond my ordinariness. And, like so many people, the structure of my days helped prop me up during periods of poor mental health.
I’ve been on antidepressants throughout my twenties, and have endured some frighteningly low points where I couldn’t imagine ever feeling at peace in my own head again.
However, daily interactions with good people, paired with the thrill of living in a big, creative city, held me together through many internal storms, with distractions and plans and spontaneous catch-ups fortifying me.
So much of my everyday self-care occurred at the everyday establishments I once took for granted. The cinema, the hairdressers, the cosy lunch place around the corner from my flat.
Then of course, there was The Pub, a place where so many of life’s everyday turns and twists unspool. Some of my happiest times have unfolded in the pub, with the smell of beery breath evoking countless inside jokes, conversations and wistful memories.
But then we entered lockdown, and life as we knew it wound down; pared back to living rooms and nervous, confused group chats. Friends shrank to social media profiles. Office leaving parties were reduced to tame Zoom meetings and any real optimism curdled to grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it platitudes.
Like many people, I’m different than I was before lockdown. Physically speaking, I’m a bit spongier around the edges, and there’s a constant weird ache in my muscles from huddling up on the sofa too much.
I imagine there are people who’ve used lockdown for self-improvement; for Joe Wicks workouts and online Mandarin classes. But for myself, and for many others, this has been a truly terrible time; marked only by profound grief, stress and, at times, anger.
With six out of ten people in the UK having experienced anxiety during lockdown, you’d expect the prospect of the pubs reopening would feel like a relief. In reality, it’s anything but.
Recent research conducted by suicide prevention charity CALM found 75% of people felt anxious about lockdown restrictions lifting, suggesting a less than celebratory spirit.
I spoke with Lucy Connolly, a young woman from Manchester who last sat in a pub during the last weekend of February for her boyfriend’s birthday drinks. There had been a few cases in the UK at this point, but the severity of what was to come hadn’t quite hit people.
Lucy hasn’t made any plans for a night out just yet, and feels she would only feel fully confident to do so upon seeing proof that the virus was no longer a threat. Of course, this is something which still feels quite a way off.
Lucy is sceptical of the government’s handling of the pandemic and feels the country is not yet in a position whereby pubs can open safely.
Although Lucy believes pub owners will do everything possible to implement safety precautions, she feels this won’t be enough to ensure social distancing once drinks have been drunk and the hugging and dancing begins.
Lucy told UNILAD:
I have felt pressure to go out and socialise, but not from my friends – from myself, because I really am missing them so much and am worried about missing out on any catch ups.
If it gets to the point where all of my mates are going out and I’m not, I’m not sure what I’d do because I do really want to see them but I just can’t picture myself in a pub anytime soon.
I’m overthinking it so much that I keep having dreams that everyone but me is going out and having fun, and then waking up even more stressed about the whole thing.
UNILAD also spoke with Stevie Thomas, who used to own a few London based bars and clubs.
With many of his friends ‘foaming at the mouth’ for a night out, Stevie explained that he just isn’t in the humour for it:
I feel the pressure of performance, there will be so many people destroying themselves on drink, I just don’t think it will work out for the best.
I doubt we’ll even be able to get service or a drink without waiting for hours, I just know it’ll be one big disappointment. Let alone the risk of catching and spreading the virus!
It’s clear that, for many of us, this won’t be an easy switch, and the road to emotional recovery will be far less simple than trying to book a table.
Head of Information at Mind, Stephen Buckley, told UNILAD:
Lockdown has been challenging for many people, and the situation has caused some big and sudden changes to our lifestyle. People are really struggling with isolation, stress, grief, financial worries and fears about the future, and this will continue to be the case once lockdown measures have been lifted.
As the restrictions begin to lift, your general mood may feel quite different to when we were in full lockdown. You might feel conflicted and confused as you may want to socialise more if it’s allowed but you may also feel like you should stay at home.
Many people are also finding the pace of life currently easier to deal with, as we’re less pressured to attend social gatherings, for example. It might be a good idea to reflect on whether we want things to return to how they were before and to take this as an opportunity to really think about what makes us happy.
Simon Gunning, the CEO of CALM, told UNILAD how the rise in helpline calls illustrates the toll on mental health that lockdown and the ongoing pandemic has taken.
Helpline calls initially shot up by 40% before falling to about 35%. Now calls are back up to 37%. To give some context, CALM answered a total of 34,172 calls, and directly prevented 148 suicides in the first three months of lockdown.
With lockdown restrictions easing, Gunning doesn’t anticipate the acute levels of anxiety will decrease, with the prospect of economic difficulties and a potential second spike prompting widespread concern.
Furthermore, Gunning told UNILAD how rule relaxation is causing ‘a wave of anxiety’ comparable to that which was triggered at the start of lockdown measures. Once again, we have to train our brains for a new way of living, and this will be tricky.
Gunning told UNILAD:
At the start of lockdown, we were told that we were going into a position of safety from a position of danger. That was the message. And that made it, although not easy, it made it directly understandable.
Our minds were able to very quickly get into a pseudo Stockholm syndrome with being locked in, because we were locked in in safety. What we’re being told now – and what we have to do, we have to get society moving again – is we now need to reintroduce ourselves into a potential situation of danger.
And that’s really hard for humans, or for any animal. You know, we’re at the back of the cave. There’s a few of us at the front with sharpened sticks keeping the, I don’t know, sabre toothed tiger out.
Now we’re being told that we’ve got to go out into what we were told before was dangerous. Our minds have been conditioned, absolutely correctly, to tell us that we’re going back out into danger.
When lockdown began, CALM established a five point plan, laying out what people could do to take care of themselves and those around them whilst adjusting to an unprecedented way of life. Now, as as the world around us changes once again, CALM has published a new five point plan.
The first point is to ‘always take things at your own pace’, advising that’s it’s okay to wait until you’re ready before heading to your favourite restaurant, or braving large crowds at a shopping precinct.
The second point reminds people that ‘lockdown is different for everyone’, with friends and family members potentially having had very different experiences to yourself.
For example, Gunning outlined his own relative privilege at living in a home with a garden with his wife and children around him. A much more comfortable situation than somebody living in a flat without an outdoor space, or someone who may potentially be concerned about their job.
Thirdly, CALM is encouraging people to ‘enjoy the things you enjoy’, carrying with them the good lessons, routines and habits acquired during lockdown. For example, if you’ve enjoyed cooking or going for a run, then this is absolutely something you can bring with you.
In relation to this third point, Gunning noted that it might be useful to switch off for a period of time every day as many have done during full lockdown.
For example, CALM offers a COVID blocker through their site, a Chrome extension which can be switched on for ‘an hour, or eight hours or a day’, removing all mention of coronavirus at times when you want to put it from your mind.
The fourth point states, ‘remember what felt OK today, might not tomorrow (and that’s fine)’. With so many changes occuring over the last few months – and many more on the way – it’s okay to feel differently day-to-day about how you approach things.
For example, just because you might enjoy a glass of wine in your friend’s garden one evening doesn’t mean you will feel up to this every week, and that’s fine. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable establishing personal boundaries, shifting these according to what feels right for you, day-to-day.
The fifth point is simply – yet importantly – to ‘talk’, whether that be through zoom calls, email or IRL chat. This can help you make sense of things, and it can feel like a weight has been lifted if you’re honest and open about your feelings with those around you.
Gunning told UNILAD:
This is the weirdest, species-wide experience that has ever happened, certainly in a modern era.
If you felt before that it was difficult for you to talk about how you were feeling, use this as an excuse because we know – we can absolutely guarantee – that talking is therapeutic, not just for you but for the person to whom you are talking. So that applies to getting the stuff out from between your ears.
But then also, asking the people around you how they’re doing. And then asking again, and then really listening.
Addressing how people can look out for their mates at this new strange transition point, Gunning emphasised that ‘you’ve just got to be considerate of each others needs’.
Noting his own ‘face-plant’ moment after failing to ask a friend with breathing problems whether they would be ready for a group meet-up, Gunning stated:
We did a piece of research about a year ago, which was about asking people whether they want to be the person that helped the people around them. And we found out that 82% of men – this was focused at men – want to be the person that is asked for help.
And no matter what the bloody Daily Mail or the Daily Express might tell us that we all hate each other and that we’re willing to trample over each other to get more than they have.
Actually, all the research – all the activities that create amazing events which will start happening again soon – show to us time and time and time again that community is real and it’s strong and that the social connections that we have in the UK – even in 2020 – are really powerful.
I think that when you are trying to look out for your mates, remember that we all actually have this desire to look after each other, despite what we may think.
And I think consideration is a very key word there. Checking how people are feeling, not expecting people to do what you do just because you feel okay with it. And knowing as well, that normal will change. This too will pass and we’ll be back in a new – hopefully positive – situation before long.
I miss my old life, but I’m not going to force myself into anything before I’m happy to do so. I was once guilty of excessive ‘FOMO’, but the life-changing nature of these last few months has put a lot of things into perspective.
As many head out for a pint this week – and all power to them – I think I will be supporting local businesses from my living room instead with a huge, boozy takeaway.
I know I’ll be back in a pub booth with friends one day. But I also know that the path back to a new normality will not be a smooth one, and we will have to be patient with ourselves and with others every single day.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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